Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Theory of Fragements and Tape, Lane Robert Mandlis, Latitude 53 Gallery, November 9 - December 1, 2007

Described as "performance ethnography," Lane Robert Mandlins traces his self (be it physical, mental, emotional) as the embodied transsexual (FTM) scholar. In layman's terms, a maze of textured shower curtains guide the audience on a journey of introspective thoughts. From the faux curtains that could double as transparent blackboards down to the inscribed bathmats that feel like stepping stones, the private sanctity of one's personal space is well conveyed into an accessible and shared experience. Doubling as the liminal head space that brews endless thoughts to the cleansing of the free, private and naked self, the shower maze-like construct is marked by numerous images of transformative figures from various cultures. From Haida to Mexico, the notion of transformation is here enlightened as a passage of life and being.

Images from the Tarot are also employed, the end card in the maze being the Death card, once again pointing to transition and change. The text and images caught in fragments and bits of tape compliment each other for an overall experience of transformation; only, I am not convinced that transformation can be given set parameters of time and space, and so perhaps this exhibition is but a blip into the transparency of our ideas of gender.

Image credit: Lane Robert Mandlis, 2007.
Photo credit: Karen MacArthur, Womon on the Edge

For those editors out there, here is what is pulled from Mandlis' site:

The word Fragements is not a miss-spelling of the word Fragments. In this art work, the word Fragements is a combination of the English word Fragments and the German word Frage, which in English means to question, or in some cases, to wonder. This work questions and wonders about things, but in a fragmented form. Thus, Fragements!


Lane Robert Mandlis said...

I agree that transformation cannot be given set parameters. And, perhaps calling this work a blip is appropriate. I have used the term snapshot, because I do not believe that the work speaks to transformation on a grand scale (or that anything really can), but that it speaks to a particular time and space that I inhabited/embodied/lived. That being said, it is not that I have now transformed (in the past tense), I am still transforming, as I agree that it is not something that can be bounded in time and space. So, I take your comment as an indication that you are thinking and engaging with the exhibit in a larger way, which is encouraging. Thanks for the review.


From what I've seen, Lane, you are more of a sociologist than an artist. Do you plan to continue to do more work in this vein? Because I hope you do. I want to see more.

af said...

artists study and reflect aspects of society, do they not? okay, they should. I don't want to categorize this work as being more sociology or cultural studies, but I am interested in hearing how you think an "artist" would convey this snapshot or blip of crest of transformation differently than a sociologist?

af said...
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No, that's not really where I was going, Amy. I'm mostly just wondering where Lane sees himself going with the work.

I don't know his background (other than the part of it which was explained in the piece itself and related materials), but I can imagine certain things. The shortcomings that I think are present in the work are things about the techniques of putting it together (physical craft, typographical issues) and ideas about visual aesthetic development. I can imagine that a possible explanation for this would involve experience and background going into the works' creation - but I can't say, since I don't personally know Lane, and in any case I don't think it matters. I'm just interested in seeing more work in the future, potentially including more consideration of those issues.

I've been kicking around some text-based art ideas myself for a little while now, and I'm really excited because seeing this piece has helped me to figure out what I want to make myself – something that will be in a large way concerned directly with the development-of-aesthetics issues which I see in Fragements.

af said...

I think there's an artist talk next tuesday by lane?

I find most text-based work to be uninteresting formally, is that what you're perhaps talking about? though locally I would count brennan's work an exception, but then it's not really text, but objects with text . . .


I doubt I'll be able to to make it to the talk. Working and all that.

Blair doesn't privilege the verbal over the visual in his pieces. The specific value of the words doesn't matter nearly as much as in Lane's piece, which is on the other end of the spectrum. I found the images seemed forced, as if they were attempting to legitimize the use of text, instead of embracing the text as a visual element.

I don't think there's a real distinction between "text" and "objects with text." That's like saying there's a difference between "colour" and "objects with colour": obviously, you refer to slightly different things, but colour still functions as colour regardless of where it is. The difference is in the specificity of its function: whether colour is enough, or red is necessary, and how important that is to the experience of the work as a whole.

But I'm hardly the colour-theory expert that my U of A education should make me. So perhaps I don't know what I'm talking about.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there's a real distinction between "text" and "objects with text."

Oh, but there is a very important distinction, and whether you agree with it or not, you need to seriously consider it. You could start anywhere, but the distinction is a matter for analytic philosophy (Quine, Russell, Wittgenstein); the entire history of Saussurean-influenced structuralism; semiotics (only one example is Pierce's seminal distinction between icon, index and symbol); quite possibly any hermeneutic philosophy related to Derrida; and more besides.


I'll look into it. But I was aiming at a much more specific sense, the description of art objects.

I'm fairly sure of this. If we were talking about capital-C conceptual art or some forms of literature, an argument could be made that they exist as text without objects (although my love of typography makes me inclined to disagree with that too, and I feel that markmaking always involves a surface). I could accept that Cage's 4'33" could be described as text without an object, at least in the experience of those who have understood it in classes and the like. Even then, though, I was reading a magazine yesterday which featured a reproduction of the front page of the score. Which is hilarious to me.
In the realm of the depictive art tradition, though, there is always an object. When Amy talks about something being interesting formally, I'd assume she is referring to the "quality" of the autonomous art object. In Greenberg's worldview, her point becomes a truism: of course text is boring in terms of the quality of visual art. Because it's not visual art. But in a post-conceptual moment of art (which Mandlis' piece as well as Blair Brennan's are obviously occurring in) the distinction falls apart, and the text is necessarily attached to an object or performance in order for literature to become a part of visual art rather than a separate entity.

This is maybe the crux of what I found frustrating in Mandlis' piece, actually: the attempt to enclose literature in art is what is poorly executed, and the result is that it is hard to describe the text in terms of depictive art's "quality." So I don't think it's very good, despite the good ideas it's based on. I think this especially comes up with the drawing elements – the tarot images – which appeal to visual art quality in an obvious, direct way, being a clear part of the depictive art tradition in a more clear-cut way than the installation.

af said...

this is a ramble:
so if we're talking about art/text in a post-Greenberg, post-Conceptual frame, are we then striving for a new formal aesthetic altogether? presence seems to be a key factor.

I think for a work to incorporate the amount of text that mandlis has, your inquiries of whether this is an art object are certainly valid. but back to my original point: the description of text and art objects with text are two entirely seperate matters.

when text appears in art objects, their connotations irrevocably carry over and imbue meaning into the overall art object. this is rarely done well and therefore uninteresting formally as they don't account for the plurality of text on object. I don't agree with the truism that text will obviously be less interesting in terms of quality of visual art, a balance just hasn't been achieved. (there's an exercise: if a typewriter on a pedestal has a single sheet of paper with the word "type" on it, is this less interesting than a painting of the same object?)
there's a real transition to the presence of the art object and text, if incorporated, is often substituted for typeface in matters of meaning andpresence.

there are also some grey zones such as graphic text (the most recent AGA poster for Pop Art is an example), and also categories of body text art or most often graffiti.